By Hovannes Shoghikian
Corruption in Armenia remains widespread and has even increased in recent years despite government claims to the contrary, local representatives of an international anti-graft watchdog insisted on Tuesday.
Amalia Kostanian, head of the Armenian branch of Transparency International, said that an anti-corruption program adopted by the Armenian government three years ago has failed to reduce the scale of corrupt practices. She reiterated her view that the government lacks the “political will” to tackle the problem in earnest.
“Despite what is being done in Armenia, the expert and public perception is that not only has corruption not decreased but has even increased, that corruption has taken new forms, that its has become more politicized and large-scale,” she told a seminar in Yerevan.
Government officials claim the opposite, however, saying that the anti-corruption plan is being successfully implemented. They cite a long list of laws and legal amendments adopted by the Armenian parliament since its launch in November 2003. The process is being overseen by a high-level commission headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
But Kostanian insisted that the plan is inherently flawed because of its emphasis on legislative measures. She cited a lack of popular faith in the authorities’ stated anti-corruption campaign and the fact that senior government officials are still rarely prosecuted for bribery and other forms of graft.
Armenian law-enforcement authorities claim to have identified 371 corruption-related crimes last year and prosecuted 97 state officials as a result. None of them are known to have ties with Armenia’s most powerful individuals or their relatives.
Armenia ranked 88th out of 146 nations that were covered by Transparency International’s 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The Berlin-based group’s previous global survey, released in 2004, put it in 82nd place.
A separate survey released by the World Bank in July concluded that last year Armenian firms continued to pay bribes to government officials at the same rate as in 2002. “Increases in bribery are apparent in some areas, such as taxes, customs and the courts, although the levels reported by firms in the previous survey in 2002 were extremely low,” the bank said in a statement.
President Robert Kocharian’s former anti-corruption adviser, Bagrat Yesayan, has repeatedly questioned the credibility of Transparency’s rankings. “Corruption is a phenomenon which is impossible to measure,” he declared last year.
Yesayan’s successor, Gevorg Mherian, was not available for comment on Tuesday.